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21 2012

Don’t let this happen. (You might lose the client.)

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Click here to subscribe in iTunes; or, listen to the audio version below: I had a weird experience last week. I needed a change of scenery, so I thought I’d grab a coffee and muffin at my local Starbucks and do some writing. As I placed my order, the guy behind the counter – as it turns out, the manager – noticed my computer bag. “Going to do some work?” He asked inquisitively. “Some,” I replied. “You know, I should put some cubicles up for you guys and rent them out,” he said, laughing slightly. There was something about the way he said “you guys” that struck me as a tad condescending. I wondered if he had an issue with people doing work at his cafe? Hmm. Then, when he gave me my order, he grumbled, “Well, enjoy the free table and Wi-Fi.” Whoa. I felt about as welcomed as a bedbug! Now I can understand how he might have felt. He’s probably frustrated by people who buy a coffee and then sit around for hours tapping on their laptops. So he let that frustration show to the next laptop-toting customer who walked in. Me. Unfortunately, by doing that, he risked losing my business. It’s unlikely I’ll be visiting that particular Starbucks anytime soon. (Well, I might drop by when the Christmas Frappuccino’s come out.) Now, before you judge that manager too harshly, think about your own dealings with prospects and clients. If you’re a copywriter , have you ever been perturbed when a client asks for endless revisions and other changes? If you’re a graphic designer , do you get irritated when a client requests numerous face-to-face meetings even for the simplest of projects? If you’re a consultant , do you get your back up when prospects ask you for free advice – advice you’d normally charge for? In those situations, it’s all too easy to let your annoyance slip into a phone conversation, email, or other interaction with a prospect or client. And that can leave a really bad impression. You might even lose that prospect or client! So how do you make sure that doesn’t happen? It’s very simple. Have a clear policy. Communicate it in a way that sounds fair and reasonable. A few years ago I had a client who called me to his office for a meeting about a project we were working on. It was a one-hour drive. When I got there, all he wanted to discuss was a revision to a single paragraph of a brochure I wrote. One paragraph! Couldn’t we have discussed that over the phone? I must have looked annoyed because he actually said, “Steve, you look annoyed.” But it wasn’t his fault. I didn’t have a clear policy regarding client meetings during project work. And because I didn’t, an uncomfortable situation arose between myself and my client, just as it did between that Starbucks manager and me. Now I do have a clear policy. But even that is not enough. You have to be able to communicate that policy in the right way. So when a client says, “Steve, can you drive to my office for a meeting?” I now respond with something like this: “You may have noticed in my quotation that I charge an extra fee to travel to meetings. However, I’m very good at meeting by phone, teleconference and web meeting. In fact, I subscribe to a great web meeting service we could use. Would that work for you?” In your own business, take a look at client requests and other issues that continually irk you. Don’t risk that annoyance harming the client relationship. Instead, create a clear policy and communicate it well. That Starbucks manager didn’t do that. And now I’m buying my lattes at Second Cup.

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